In May 2014, my girlfriend, Johanna Murray, and I quit our jobs in Omaha, Nebraska. Jo was a waitress and an educator at a local forest preserve, and I was a music teacher at the School of Rock Omaha. We decided to leave our hometown to become Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOFERS) so we could learn about growing food; food that is nutritionally dense, local, wholesome, the kind of food that has become a luxury in a world dominated by large-scale industrial farming. Our home state of Nebraska has been overrun by such farming operations, with expansive corn and soybean monocultures; rows and rows stretching as far as the eye can see.
On Mother's Day, (a few days before our departure) I spent a couple hours pulling the dandelions out of my parents' front yard, not because the little yellow flowers bothered my Mom (Wendy) and Dad (Tom) - the dandelions were scaring the neighbors! (Who fought fiercely to rid their green lawns of imperfections). So with a little shovel and my bare hands, I dug into the clay (there is no topsoil in the city of Omaha), waging war against the evil, unwanted perennial weeds!
As a permaculturist, Josh reads the land like a doctor reads a human's vitals. He notices the Sycamore trees (the ones that "grow like weeds around here") and doesn't see an invader, he sees a helper. He sees a tree with a taproot strong enough to pierce the cement-like fragipan, slowly opening up the soil so other plants can reach the nutrients and water table below.
Nature has a funny way of giving us exactly what we need to turn hard soil into something we can actually grow berries in! I guess the dandelions we label as invaders (with their long, white taproots) are really just trying to restore the rich, fluffy soil we all love - and they'll do it for free!
Reflecting on my taproot experience in Omaha, and my Taproot experiences here on the farm, I'm beginning to believe that Mother Earth isn't just sending distress signals regarding the composition of our soils, she's also revealing the emotional, physical, and spiritual deficiencies of humanity as well.
During the Wednesday night Meditation Circles at the farm, I was invited to practice Mindfulness as a way to loosen my own spiritual soil... taking time to observe the layers of thinking and reacting that often dictate how I interact with my environment. Each week presented another opportunity to create more airy spaces, and shed old skins. I find that when I break through my spiritual fragipan, I am free to absorb what's happening around me; allowing me to listen, to learn, and to see.... And I begin to wonder...what would a society look like that was free of emotional and spiritual fragipans?
(...I wonder what my old man would have to say about all of this?)
(Part II: Looking Forward)
Every year I ask my Dad what he wants for his birthday, and every year he replies: " world peace." Since I love my Dad, I feel inclined to follow through on this request at some point before 2040, (hoping for good health and an absence of super-volcanic eruptions). Considering how to bring about world peace is a daunting task - so many wars, so many people, such a big planet...such a big waste of time? There has to be a logical place to start?
Back in Omaha I had a poster pinned to my bedroom wall of the Dalai Lama sitting in a lotus position, dressed in red monk robes, staring blankly at the floor, with a quote at the bottom: "World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not the absence of violence, peace is the manifestation of human compassion." So... the destination and the sequence for world peace exist! But where's the map of how to get there? How do I/we/the world arrive at inner peace? Not only that, but how can we love ourselves so much that we generate a surplus worth dishing out to the world?
Maybe making peace is like making honey? If we can draw from the goodness of our environment, transform it into something even sweeter, share it, and do so in a way that keeps the cycle going from now until eternity... everyone gets to eat honey, and that's pretty sweet ;)
My personal planner is always first in line, reminding me of all the tasks, chores, bills, future plans, people I need to call, what's for breakfast, what time is breakfast, what's the weather like?... And my narrator always shows up too. He tries to absorb every life experience, past and present, and arrange them into the most epic, transcendental, life-changing narrative; casting all my friends, family, and enemies into supporting roles of my grandiose life performance. Narrator-Mike likes to team up with songwriter-Mike, the one who's constantly clapping his hands and turning everything into a rhyme. Greedy-Mike shoves his head into the middle of conversations: "Drink all the beer! Eat all the lemon bars! Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex! Me! Me! Me! Me!"
But I'm starting to learn how to cultivate my 00 zone... if I take time to breathe, listen, breathe some more, listen, acknowledge my inner voices, my habitual trains of thought, and let them pitch in their two cents... at some point, there will be enough space amidst the rambling banter for me to relax and say:
"Welcome back fellas, thanks for looking out for me, thanks for trying to write stories and songs and get me where I need to go on time, and thanks for reminding me that I also need to party and eat apple pie." (Greedy-Mike raises his glass, we've found a middle ground over the years, he's not so bad in small doses)."
"I hear you all, I see you all, let's just sit down in a Circle, shut up, and be mindful of this body, this mind, this conception of self."
"Let's arrive in the moment we all exist in, let's practice being here, in the space where stories are shared, where songs are heard. And in this space (unlimited it seems) I will plant a peace-tree seed. As I grow older (maybe wiser), may the branches reach higher, may the taproots creep deep into the soil... into the seams. May I draw from the richness of life that surrounds me, and channel it into more fruit, more seeds; and when my tree is lush and green, with my pockets full of seeds, may I plant another peace-tree seed, and share it with the bees."
Peace be with you all.